Should I tell them the secret?
It's something I've thought more than once this summer, teaching several of my students the complicated 16th-note passages in the first and third movements of Antonio Vivaldi's Concerto in A minor for Violin.
The "secret" is this: those complicated passages were not written that way by Vivaldi, who first published this work in 1711 as part of his multi-concerto "L'estro armonico." No, they were invented more than a century later by Hungarian violinist Tivadar Nachéz (1859 – 1930), whose Romantic sensibilities prompted him to insert some showy virtuosity into these passages, which in Vivaldi's version are rather more repetitive and Baroque. Let me put it plainly: Vivaldi's original version is a good deal easier.
This piece certainly is a rite of passage for violin students, and generally they emerge with deeper skill and musicality once they have mastered it. The first and third movements appear in Suzuki Book 4, with the second movement in Book 5, but most violinists study the Concerto in A minor, whether with a traditional or Suzuki teacher.
I was not a Suzuki student, but when I studied these pieces as a young student, I also used the Nachez version, which remains one of the most popular editions of the Concerto in A minor. It is the edition that appears in the Suzuki books as well.
Here's an example of what I'm talking about, measures 75-90 from the third movement. This is the version by Nachez that appears in the Suzuki books:
....and here are the same measures from the Bärenreiter edition by Kurt Sassmannshaus, which follows the notes and bowings as Vivaldi originally wrote them:
Comparing the two: the Nachez version contains some quirky bowings that put some measures up-bow and others down-bow, and it arpeggiates every chord in several octaves, creating more string crossings. The Vivaldi version is all separate bows, with a lot of repetition of simple patterns between two strings. Overall, a good portion of the different versions is essentially identical, but these are the kinds of general departures: the Nachez part tends to have more complicated bowings, and also certain passages are reworked for more virtuosic arpeggiation.
So which version is the right version to use?
As a teacher, I continue to use the Nachez version for pedagogical reasons -- it presents challenge. In order to learn to play the fast-passage notes fluently, students usually need to practice playing the passage in various rhythmic patterns. In order to memorize it, we talk about how to look for the harmonic changes, sequences and important notes. Mastering the challenging music helps push them to a new level of playing, and going through this process helps give them tools and confidence for learning difficult passages in the future.
But after they have conquered the challenge I always do let them in on the "secret" -- I show them the other version, and sometimes we even listen to a recording of it in the lesson. In my opinion, Vivaldi's original notes and bowings allow for a deeper exploration of Baroque style - and also a faster speed limit (i.e. "Presto")!
I'm not the only teacher to debate the two versions and to feel like there is validity in both. Around 10 years ago the European Suzuki Association took up the question: use the Nachez version for its pedagogical value, or something closer to the original, for historical and stylistic reasons? They ultimately agreed to a compromise: they offer teachers the option to use a baroque version. (If you happen to teach in Europe, you can tell us more about this!)
And if you are wondering why Suzuki teachers feel obligated to agree on an edition, it is to allow students from all over the world to be able to play together. Which is nice, but then we can all do our own explorations and make our own decisions. Provided we are given options! So I offer you a few options for your own listening. Which do you like, as a player? Which were you taught? Which do you teach? Which do you enjoy as a listener? What are your thoughts about the differences?
VIVALDI Concerto in A minor, III. Presto
Here is the Nachez version, conveniently set to the sheet music.
Here is modern version with Vivaldi's original notes and bowings, played by Itzhak Perlman with the Israel Philharmonic.
And here is Baroque version by The Academy of Ancient Music with Christopher Hogwood, played with A strings tuned down to 415. Check out how fast they play the third movement!
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